It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon, 18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London, 14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now and 12, Event Horizon.
This time we talk a stroll in the jungle in Ruggero Deodato’s grueling, controversial Cannibal Holocaust.
Cannibal Holocaust is an important film, not only because it’s by far the most transgressive film on my list in terms of pushing boundaries beyond the limits of what’s still accepted to be ‘good taste’, but it’s the first example of the Found Footage genre in horror. It’s massively influential beyond it’s controversy, but at the heart is a splendid example of Italian exploitation cinema at it’s finest, though I have one massive, fuck-off problem with the film, though it’s also a reason why it’s so powerful but I’ll get onto this later.
The plot is simple: an American documentary crew goes missing in the Amazon. The television station behind the filmmakers send a rescue mission to the Amazon headed by a leading anthropologist at New York University where he finds the remains of the crew as well as the remaining tins of film shot by them. Upon returning to New York the footage is viewed by the TV network & we find out the dreadful truth behind what the filmmakers were doing in the jungle….
This isn’t a hardcore critique of the film, that’s been done better elsewhere, I’m going to deal with how I came to see the film which was during the Video Nasty craze of the early 1980’s. I first saw a very, very poor copy which may, or may not have been uncut. I’m not especially sure as even then watching it through the fuzzy haze I could still be totally sickened by the very real animal deaths in the film. For years I wrote the film off because of this.
Fast forward to around a decade ago and the film is released again in the UK, albeit in a vastly censored version with the animal deaths edited out along with much of the more extreme violence. Even so it was still an amazingly hard film to watch. Around five years ago I watched a full uncut version and was promptly disgusted but at the same time realised this was actually a bloody good film that not only was brilliantly shot with an amazing soundtrack, but it had serious things to say that a lot of horror films don’t attempt to say.
The animal killings are a huge problem, but this is hardly the only film to do this. Watch Apocalypse Now for example for an example of a director using a killing of an animal as part of the film’s narrative, just as Deodato does to lure the viewer into thinking what they’re seeing is real. It’s wrong but it’s an effective, if horrific tool. Thankfully Deodato released a ‘director’s cut’ version which still, sort of, has the animal deaths in it but so obscured that it doesn’t affect the flow of the film, and in fact makes the viewer focus on the film itself. It’s this cut which I recommend people see because not only does it remove the needless animal cruelty, but it makes the film look stunningly beautiful as opposed to the fuzzy haze I first saw back in the 80’s.
It’s an important film as it launched the Found Footage genre for horror, though it’d take a few decades for that genre to truly become successful but I’ll get to that later on this list.
So, Cannibal Holocaust. Watch it but be warned that it’s a hard film to stomach….
One last thing, the score for this film is brilliant.
Next time, oh dear god, sweet Jesus no, it’s the top ten!